The purpose of this paper is to first elaborate on the notion of a learning environment based on an empirical study of care work. Second, to explore how aspects of a learning environment may differ between and within units in the same organization, and how to understand and explain such differences.
The study was based on a multiple case‐study design including four departments within two care units. Data were collected through direct observation of working conditions and work practices as well as semi‐structured interviews with all care‐workers within the two units (29 persons), and with the head and deputy head for each of the two units.
It was possible to distinguish between two qualitatively different patterns of working conditions and practices within the four teams. These patterns of practice were interpreted as representing an enabling and a constraining type of learning environment as these concepts were defined in this study. The evidence suggests that the emergence of an enabling learning environment was an outcome of a dynamic interplay between a number of factors that had the character of a virtuous circle.
The article adds to previous research through a distinction between two types of learning environment (enabling and constraining), and by linking these two types of learning environment to different conceptions of learning and to different working conditions and practices.
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